Aaron Hernandez died an innocent man, at least according to Massachusetts state law.
Just three weeks after committing suicide inside the walls of prison, the NFL star’s conviction has been completely erased.
On Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Susan Garsh vacated Hernandez’s conviction for the murder of Odin L. Lloyd since the trial had not gone before the Supreme Judicial Court before his death.
Garsh had overseen the murder trial. She announced her decision Tuesday from the bench as Lloyd’s mother, Ursula Ward, sat in the courtroom.
“Abatement remains the law in this Commonwealth and this court is compelled to follow binding precedent,” Garsh said.
She also said prosecutors from Bristol District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III’s office did not convince her that Hernandez’s apparent suicide in his cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center was a voluntary act solely aimed at having the conviction vacated.
His death, she said, sprang from complex and myriad issues, including possible “mental disturbance” as well as concerns about news reports that he was gay that were broadcast a day before his death.
Garsh also said that the SJC has remained steadfast in its support of the legal principle known as abatement ab initio (ab initio is Latin for “from the beginning”) and she would not issue a ruling that contradicted the state’s highest court.
Quinn vowed to appeal Garsh’s ruling. He said outside the courthouse that he respected the practices of the past but “it’s time for a change.”
“He died a guilty man and a convicted murderer. This fact is indisputable … You can’t just snap your fingers and have that go away,” Quinn said.
“I think this goes a little too far,” he said, adding that the decision was based on an “antiquated” law that needs to be changed because Hernandez “reaped the legal benefits” of a “medieval” rule.
Lloyd’s mother, Ursula Ward, said of Hernandez, “In our book, he’s guilty, and he’s going to always be guilty. But I know that one day I’m going to see my son and that’s a victory that I have that I am going to take with me.”
Ward, quietly and slowly, said “I know everyone is looking for me to be angry but I’m not…I know God is fighting this battle for me.”
She said she expects to one day go to heaven and be reunited with Lloyd.
“That’s where I will see my baby,’’ she said.
Prior to the ruling, Bristol Assistant District Attorney Patrick Bomberg told Garsh that “this is not a defendant who has arrived at the killing of himself by happenstance. The defendant should not be able to accomplish in death what he couldn’t accomplish in life.”
But John Thompson, Hernandez’s court-appointed appellate attorney, said, “This is an established common law doctrine.”
Asked if the principle should apply in cases of suicide, Thompson said, “The manner of death has never been a consideration.”
Thompson also said an investigation remains underway into whether Hernandez killed himself and, if he did, whether he knew about abatement ab initio.
Hernandez was convicted in 2015 of the first-degree murder of Lloyd in 2013.
Also in the courtroom when Garsh ruled was Shaneah Jenkins, Odin Lloyd’s girlfriend at the time of his murder. Her twin sister, Shayanna Jenkins Hernandez, is the long-time fiancée of Hernandez and the mother of their 4-year-old daughter. Shaneah Jenkins wiped tears from her eyes after the hearing..
Hernandez was found hanged inside his cell at the state’s maximum security prison in Shirley on April 19. A 27-year-old man who had seen a stunning fall from grace, Hernandez had once sped across goal lines as a handsomely paid player for the Patriots.
His death came the same day many of his former teammates were feted at the White House for winning the Super Bowl.
His death also came five days after he was acquitted of two additional murders, in Boston in 2012. But he was still serving a life without parole sentence for killing Odin L. Lloyd in 2013 in an industrial park near Hernandez’s spacious North Attleborough home.
It may or may not be ironic that Hernandez wrote to his fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, in his suicide note that said ‘You’re rich.’
Now due to his innocence, the NFL will be obligated to pay out the rest of his contract to his estate.
Something tells us that Hernandez had an idea of how this legal situation would play out…